CSU scores big with prospective students on Free App Day

Freshman class 2018
CSU welcomed a record class of more than 5,400 freshmen in 2018.

In the days leading up to the first Free Application Day for Colorado high school students interested in attending one of the state’s colleges or universities, Heather Daniels thought it might be fun for her staff to guess how many applications Colorado State University would receive.

Daniels, executive director of admissions at CSU, said several staffers projected that as many as 600 or 700 applications would be filed Oct. 30 – the day the Colorado Department of Higher Education had chosen for the new, one-day program. She noted that, traditionally, CSU receives between 200 and 300 applications on an average late October day.

“We figured getting 700 would be pretty cool,” she said.

Maybe so, but by 8 a.m. that threshold had been breached – and then some. CSU received 800 applications by the time anyone in the admissions office had turned on their computers. By the end of the remarkable day, CSU had received more than 5,550 applications – easily the most of any Colorado school.

Remarkable day for Colorado

Free App DayStatewide, 22,294 free applications were filed during that 24-hour period. The University of Colorado (4,791) was second to CSU, while the University of Northern Colorado (3,905) was third.

About half of the applications statewide (10,700) were submitted by students of color, and a third were submitted by first-generation students (7,440) – groups that have historically lower college enrollment rates in Colorado.

Among the 2016 graduating high school class, there was a 16.5 percentage point gap in postsecondary enrollment among white and Hispanic students, who make up the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state, and a 6.3 gap among white and African American students.

“Part of the goal of this program was to attract students who might not otherwise apply to Colorado schools,” Daniels said. “We got students to apply to schools across the state – and that’s very encouraging. We won’t know the full impact for a while but the early returns are very encouraging.”

Free App Day capped off College Application Month, an annual statewide campaign coordinated by the CDHE that encourages students to submit at least one postsecondary application and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Despite being one of the most educated states in the country, Colorado sent just 56 percent of its high school graduates to a college, university or certificate program in 2016.

Buried in applications

Free App Day was so popular, most admissions staffs were overwhelmed by receiving three weeks’ worth of applications in one day. Daniels said it took her staff about a week to review the 5,000-plus applications but several schools were still trying to complete the process in early December.

“My staff was incredible,” she said.

The really good news, Daniels said, is that the quality of the applicants was very high. So far, 3,858 – nearly three out of every four – of the Free App Day applicants have been accepted. Of those, 243 have already sent in their deposits, even though the May 1 deadline is still nearly four months away.

Proud to be … No. 1

Last year, CSU received 24,550 overall applications; right now, more than 21,000 students have applied – 4,000 more than had applied by this time in 2018. Daniels is delighted that Free App Day has been such a success – and that CSU is the unofficial “winner.”

“That part feels pretty darn good,” she said.